JERSEY CITY, N.J. – India’s Anirban Lahiri didn’t save the Presidents Cup for the International Team, but he delayed the inevitable for a day, his birdie-birdie burst at Nos. 16 and 17 lifting him and Si Woo Kim to a 1-up four-ball victory over Team USA’s Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman, making sure the Americans’ champagne had 24 more hours to chill.
Lahiri’s point for the Internationals will not get them back into the competition – they trail by 11 points – but it represented a symbol of pride, determination, perseverance and hard work for a team that has had very little go its way this week.
“These guys have played their hearts out,” said International captain Nick Price. “I think the emotion that Si Woo Kim and Anirban Lahiri showed on the last green sort of epitomizes our team. They got a standing ovation when they walked in our team room tonight, which, it was fantastic. First time we had seen a match go our way for a long time.”
Best yet, the match ended with a magnanimous display of sportsmanship on the part of American Kevin Chappell, who picked up Lahiri’s marker and handed it to him before he stood over a 3-footer to win the match outright. Lahiri, some may recall, missed a pivotal 4-footer on the final green two years ago that proved pivotal in a one-point International setback.
The Internationals go into Sunday singles with a seemingly insurmountable margin, but Lahiri, for one, appreciated the gesture. And kudos to Chappell for showing exemplary sportsmanship in what is a gentleman’s game by conceding the putt.
“In hindsight,” Lahiri said, “what the Americans did was fantastic. There hasn’t been as much sportsmanship as there should be up until those last two holes. That should demonstrate to everyone here how we really should play the game with the right spirit.”
The final match of a long, hard day for the Internationals came down to a single grouping left on the golf course, with two full rosters of players, captains and assistant captains following the final three holes. Kim, the 21-year-old Players champion, birdied 15 from 7 feet to pull the Internationals even, and Lahiri put them on top, 1-up, with a 16-footer up the hill at the par-3 16th.
It was then that a shocking, sullen drama-less Saturday at Liberty National that had been completely dominated by the home squad really sprung to life. Hoffman pitched in for 3 from 25 yards off the green at the 17th, and the Americans celebrated ferociously, Chappell leaping high into the air and sprinting to Hoffman.
Lahiri then stepped up to a curling, downhill, left-to-right 19-foot slider and ran it right into the hole, assuring the Internationals, down 14.5-2.5 at the time, that the cup would not be handed away on Saturday evening.
Lahiri was asked if his victory alongside Kim marked redemption from two years ago, and he responded with a warm smile.
“Look at the scoreboard,” he said.
But Lahiri also knows the putts he made down the stretch can go a long way in fueling his confidence when he returns to individual events. That, and after losing the first four matches of his Presidents Cup career, he was relieved to land a full point – only the second of the week for Internationals.
“To me, I’m happy I opened my account,” he said. “There’s obviously some really tough matches. Si Woo carried me through most of the round, but it was nice to step up and get one for the team. That’s what we’re here for. It’s not about me. It’s not about him. We just want to see more blue.”
Blue is the Internationals’ color on the boards scattered all over Liberty National; instead, those boards have been a sea of red. A powerful U.S. team has been placing a true beating on their visitors, and with one point on Sunday will run the overall advantage in this lopsided match to 10-1-1.
“It’s hard, it’s really hard,” Lahiri said. “It’s difficult when you don’t see light. We’ve all started well … and down the stretch we’ve lost the momentum. More than us losing it, I think the Americans have wrested it away. So hats off to them.”
As for the team’s mindset on Sunday?
“Obviously, we’ve got nothing to lose,” he said. “We are looking at a mountain in front of us. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to enjoy ourselves tomorrow. That’s going to be the main thing. … we need to play for Nick (Price, the captain) and play for pride, and go in and have fun.”
There hasn’t been too much of that.